Saturday, December 19, 2009

Keep, Keep, Keep, Thy blue ship……..

I was prepared to be blown by the whole experience. That, definitely did not happen. There are any number of films that I have seen, even in the recent past, that I would say are far better than Avatar. Having got that clear (and out of my system) let me say that I would recommend the movie to any fellow-movie-buff.

Everyone, by now, knows that the movie is about Earthlings trying to infiltrate the Na’vi – a blue-skinned alien species – so that they may obtain the unobtainium which is available in plenty on this alien planet and which is desperately needed by the dying planet of the humans. So ex-marine Jake Sully is given a Na’vi avatar and sent off to their astonishingly beautiful planet to learn what he can so that the knowledge can be used to get to the unobtainium. That being the premise on which the film unravels, the viewer spends the first half of the film expected to marvel at the flora, fauna and Na’vis on the planet. It gets boring pretty quickly. There is a surprising lack of characterizing in the film – so that the main actors are no more than clichéd stereotypes. I can see how this might have helped the good-vanquishes-evil kind of story-telling philosophy that works for any good myth or fable where the characters end up representing certain qualities that we all aspire to. In this particular case, that did not happen. I wanted to see more flesh, figuratively speaking, on the characters. Instead Sully is the intrepid warrior who is child-like in his simplicity; the girl is beautiful and innocent and trusting; the scientist understands the beauty of this alien world and wishes to preserve it, realizing we can learn from it; the”colonel” is a trigger-happy moron (which is the only okay characterization as far as I am concerned coz there is nothing so stupid as the chest-thumping-aggro-male) and so on. Surely, even sci-fi benefits from the eccentricity and individuality of its characters?

In the process of being accepted into the fold, Sully predictably aces the tests (the most important one being akin to taming the bucking bronc) and falls in love with the chief’s daughter.

The second half gets far better however as the climactic war between the humans and the Na’vis unfolds. The central philosophy of the Na’vis, which is that we are all part of the system on our planet and NOT creatures meant to rule it has been laid out earlier. As far back as in Asimov’s Foundation, humans ultimately learn to live as part of Gaia (a Greek name for Earth) so that all their actions enhance HER well-being. The emotional parts in the film came from these references – that the colonel and his army would kill their “own mother”, that you are automatically an enemy if you are sitting on "shit" that other people want (America in Iraq), the colonel swearing to “fight terror with terror” after initiatinganall-out invasion on another race...etc.
The war scene is something else and deserves every bit of the praise being heaped on the film. I was watching the whole thing literally open-mouthed. The lithe blue aliens with their unsophisticated weaponry against the ultra-sophisticated army of humans proves to be a visual treat. And when the underdogs win in the most unexpected ways, you can’t help but cheer them. So, you leave the show feeling that it was money well spent.
Now if only Hollywood’s sympathy for aliens could be reflected in their country’s foreign policy towards the non-white countries…….sigh!


  1. I loved it...! This is James Cameron's labour of love and it was worth the hype for me. So much thought and effort put to show an ecosystem and also carry subtle messages. It was being made over 10 years and it shows... For instance, the fire throwing methods in the jungle were similar to the ones used in the Korean war. Pre-emptive strikes were made in Iraq... When their tree (WTC) was felled, they invaded Afghanistan. The material for energy is oil for which the war in Gulf is being carried out. Invaders were not welcome in Korea, they are not welcome in Afghanistan and in Iraq. War is bad. Planet is being ravaged for greed and excess.... Its brilliant how all these messages were woven and shown thru a 'utopian' society and with such beauty. Did you watch it in 3D? Its the only way to enjoy this movie to the max! best I have ever seen....!

  2. Also, I hear the navi characters were inspired by Lord Ram who was described as having blue skin with tall, lithe bodies... Lord Krishna is also painted as having blue skin in mythology...

  3. hi spike - great that you enjoyed it so much. I expected to but i did not as much. I loved the references too - the utterly stupid idea that you bulldoze your way to supremacy that America follows only bothering to crank up its PR machinery so that it seems to be on some save-the-world rather than destroy-the-world agenda.......
    I was sure the Na'vi being blue-skinned was directly inspired from Indian mythology especially lord Rama. Krishna and Shiva too are mostly represented as blue-skinned. And Ram and Krishna were Avatars .........didnt see it in 3d and dont wish to as i have always disliked the wearing of those glasses.
    but am planning to see the film again.

  4. You get used to wearing them after a while as u get immersed into the movie. It comes alive in 3D.

  5. I'm going for this one this week, so did not read your review. I'm trying to keep all impressions out, but am quite excited. Will come back after watching!!!

  6. I am going to see this either today or tomorrow.

    Happy Holidays.

  7. Avdi and Couch Papaya : Do let me know what you thought of the film. N Happy Holidays

  8. Brilliant, well reasoned review. My kids are watching this movie today, I will see it later.
    I too do not like those 3-D spectacles, and also not very fond of SciFi. The last good SciFi movie I saw was District 9, and that too had an aggresive Humans Vs Aliens motif.
    Good to see you writing again.

  9. So, finally saw it and enjoyed it for the visual spectacle it was! I too hate wearing the 3D specs (are we all dating ourselves here heh), but I really liked all the effects. Definitely if the 3D gimmick wasnt there it would have been a decent movie but not the money-grosser it is now. Agree with you on the characterisation, very simple good vs. evil and predictably v. dull.

  10. @Samir - Had to come back and say I dont think this qualifies as good sci-fi. Sure, it has space travel and new technologies and aliens, but sci-fi's supposed to make you think? District 9 did this brilliantly. I found Avatar to be a whole lot of posturing with tired messages.